View all news

New Public Governance under the spotlight


Steve Spinks
18 October 2013
Does the success of some Dutch regional railway networks have a lesson for government and asset management in Australia?

Professor Joop Koppenjan, from Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands, will present a public seminar in public management and infrastructure governance at Southern Cross University’s Gold Coast campus on Tuesday, October 22.

Professor Koppenjan is a leading researcher in the emerging field of New Public Governance which is an infrastructure governance theory that hopes to straddle the divide of public ownership and operation of services and privatisation.

“The Dutch Railways is a government owned company that has had a monopoly for about a century,” he said.

“At the margins of the system, the Dutch government put some regional rail lines that were not profitable into the hands of private companies. This privatisation is heavily contested. Privatisation can be seen as a form of New Public Management, a way of governing that introduces management tools from the business sector, like performance measurement and privatisation into the public sector.”

Professor Koppenjan said the global banking crisis heightened fears in The Netherlands over the privatisation of infrastructure-related sectors. Apparently the market was not self-regulating and government needed to step in.

“It’s pretty clear that New Public Management is not the sole answer,” he said.

“In the Netherlands there have been well documented failures of New Public Management encouraging public managers to behave in an entrepreneurial way. An example was that various care providers who invested in real estate and made enormous losses and then couldn’t provide care.

“There have been problems in the education system where some institutions were encouraged to run like a business and therefore salaries were pushed higher and higher. Some managers were getting a lot of money and legislation was required to ensure that no public servant could earn more than the Prime Minister.

“So privatising parts of the rail network was controversial. Nevertheless the private companies have succeeded in driving increased use of those lines by commuters, while the public monopoly considered them unprofitable and wanted to close them down.

“While the public carrier underperforms on the core network, the performance of the private companies can be seen as a success story. What we are researching is why this has worked and it seems it’s because of the collaboration of the private companies with the regional authorities in the areas in which they operate.

“What seemed to be a New Public Management way of organising, could work because it was mixed with collaborative governance. This is what we call New Public Governance.

“What New Public Governance is all about is taking the successful parts of New Public Management and teaming these up with good aspects from collaborative governance.

“As far as the governance of rail infrastructure is concerned the question is how a split up of services between public and private rail companies could work and how this network could be governed to ensure efficiency and quality.”

The seminar is hosted by the Southern Cross University’s Research Centre for Tourism, Leisure and Work and the Collaborative Research Network. It is open to the public and starts at 5pm in Building A on the Gold Coast campus. Following Professor Koppenjan’s presentation, there will be a panel discussion on infrastructure and services at the Gold Coast.

Photo: Professor Joop Koppenjan.